Does hell exist? Thich Nhat Hanh

“About 18 years ago he went on a retreat in the Tibetan tradition that also had the theme of “Death.” The teacher spoke in a lot of detail on how to transfer consciousness at the point of death, but also on what happens after death. The teacher spoke on some detail about the different hells that exist, those that are cooler and hotter, and certain images that are present in those hells. One of the images was that of a hungry ghost, that we may in such a hell be born as someone who has a throat that is too small and that we are very hungry but we somehow cannot receive the food to go into our body and nourish us. There were also some other images that he mentioned. Our friend’s question is are these images offered to help us… wake up, [laughter] as some kind of tool to help us live more meaningfully and appropriately in this life, more beautifully in this life, or do these images actually speak of a true reality. In connection to that can we speak of hells that are present on earth at this very moment, are these metaphors for experiences that we have during life, or are they only something for after death. There were a few more questions but I wonder if that is enough… [LAUGHTER]
This is a question about the connection between sleep without dream and stored consciousness. According to the form of the question we know that the one who asked the question he already has the answer. [LAUGHTER] The way he asked the question shows that he already has the answer. Don’t you agree? But that is also a chance for us to look and to see that the teaching of the Buddha can help many people. Not only the people who have high intellectual capacity, but also the people who do not have good education. The teaching of the Buddha helps everyone. There is the kind of Buddhism for the vast majority, there is a deep Buddhism for only a minority. These teachings may “contradict” each other as far as form is concerned. That is why it is said, in Buddhism there are Dharma doors, and many kinds of teachings, and many kinds of practices. There are those who are afraid of punishment. If they are afraid of retribution, they behave better, because they are afraid of retribution. That is why to talk to them of hell, hot, cool, cold hell and so on, that may happen, as a kind of “threat.”  “If you behave like that, you suffer like so.”
In many Temples we see drawings of hell, as a kind of warning “If you don’t practice the five precepts, you will suffer like that, you will be boiled in hot oil or something like that. “If you lie, when you go to the hell, they will take your tongue and cut it your tongue” (audience laughs) That may help many people also, but it does not help some other people. That is popular Buddhism. We know that the vast majority believes in rebirth, in reincarnation, but their belief comes from their wrong view in a self, that there is a self, there is a soul, that is distinct from the body, and when the body is gone, the soul always survives, seeks to penetrate another body, and continue.
“That is a kind of belief on rebirth, and that is a teaching on rebirth, but it is not truly the deep teaching of the Buddha, because it is based on the wrong view of the self. Anything, any teaching that goes against the insight of impermanence, no self, and Nirvana cannot be described as the deepest teachings. Whether you are thinking of cause and effect, rebirth, retribution; if your teaching, if your practice does not reflect the insight of impermanence, no-self, and Nirvana, that is not truly the teaching of the Buddha.”
So there are many things that have come from the teachings of the Vedas, the Upanishads. We know that before the Buddha there was already the belief, in reincarnation, and in retribution; that is not invented by the Buddha. The teaching of retribution, reincarnation existed before the coming of the Buddha. But these teachings are based upon the existence of a self. The Buddha although he teaches the continuation, life after life, his teaching is based on the insight of no self, impermanence, and finally, nirvana, no birth and no death. That kind of belief, which is not purely Buddhist, can also help. There are those who believe that the pureland of Amitabha Buddha is not here, but in the direction of the west, and you get there only after you die. There are those who also have a better, a different view, We know that the true pure land is in the here and the now, and there is no time to be in the west, or in the east. When your mind is pure, then the land is pure also, at the same time. That goes more in the direction of right view. The spirit of Buddhism is that of tolerance. There are those who cannot understand deep Buddhism. We have to allow them to embrace a form of Buddhism that is more diluted, like medicine with some sugar in it. They help. So we are not criticizing them because their teaching, their belief, does not go perfectly with the Ultimate Truth. Because we have compassion, because we have understanding, then compassion is possible.
The real true Buddhist is always tolerant, not a fanatic. If you are skillful, you can lead them slowly, so that they gradually abandon their wrong view, and get a better and better view all the time. That may apply to all of us. In the beginning we have had an idea about the Three Jewels, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. After ten years of practice, you have a better view of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and after fifty years, we have a deeper understanding of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, so according to that we learn the lesson of tolerance. We should not think that our view is the best. We are making progress, we are ready to abandon our present view, in order to get a better view. That is the practice of non-attachment to view. In Buddhism if you have that insight, you will be very tolerant and you accept other forms of Buddhism. You don’t criticize. Only you can help people to have, a better view and a better practice. That is why there should not be, conflict and war between Buddhist schools. There has been the reality. There are so many schools in Buddhism, but they never organized any holy war, in order to fight each other. We should be able to keep that tradition of tolerance. Tolerance, not because you are forced to be tolerant, but because you have Right View, that is why your heart is open, that is why you can tolerate those, who do not have the same kind of view as yours. You should try with loving speech, and deep listening, to help him or her to abandon their view, that may still have fanaticism or things like that in it. Here we learn that the present moment is not something that can exist independently, from the past or the future. You cannot cut and separate, the past, present and future. The three times, past, present and future, they inter-are. In any one of them, you see the other two. That is why if you touch the present moment deeply, you touch the past, and you touch the future. The past is still available, and the future is only available. That is the insight you get, when you meditate on the nature, of the inter-being of time. ” Thich Nhat Hanh

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Buddhist and Religious Threats of Hell as Social Control

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